Sunday, October 11, 2020

Old tale; new tactics, victims and weapons

       When I was in law school, a Chinese LL.M. student introduced me to the Opium Wars. Back the 1700s and 1800s, the British empire made a fortune selling opium to Chinese. Seeing all the death and waste it caused, a succession of Chinese administrators tried to restrict the drug starting in 1729, with no luck. Eventually, in 1839, the Daoguang Emperor put his foot down, naively thinking he could finally rid his country of the drugs. No, the British attacked and after a series of victories, forced him to continue allowing the import of opium for decades. This had a devastating impact on China, one that will likely haunt its memories forever.

       Although such profiteers can no longer rely on colonialism and military attacks, they have other tools -- and new victims: American victims. For example, when Johnson & Johnson wanted to make money by selling opioids in Oklahoma, it created a "'super poppy' that was particularly rich in opiates." It also designed an intricate plan, an "influence map" -- which it used to change the viewpoint of everyone who could interfere with its opioid sales. It then paid its employees bonuses for targeting doctors and getting them to write opioid prescriptions. And when the State of Oklahoma asked Johnson & Johnson to pay a fraction of the cost associated with fixing the state's opioid crisis -- the drug maker hired O'Melveny to fight the state (see these background posts on that trial: one, two, three.) 

       Law360 reports that O'Melveny just filed its opening brief on appeal, "assailing" the state of Oklahoma as "radicals." I didn't read the brief. I read the first page, saw it compare opioids to "the health hazards of corn syrup and red meat" and realized I had more enriching things to do with my time. The Chamber of Commerce is also fighting for Johnson & Johnson. They threatened that businesses will leave Oklahoma ("chill business activity throughout Oklahoma") if the appeals court doesn't rule for them. That's scary; what's a judge to do? Rule for the victims and risk a boycott destroying your state's economy, or get in line? 

       I don't know how this will turn out, but it's a shame that history is allowed to repeat itself. And maybe I've grown cynical, but this opioid racket will probably repeat again in the future. If there's a way to make money by victimizing others, some unscrupulous person will do it -- and O'Melveny will be eager to represent them. Here is O'Melveny's chair, Brad Butwin, boasting about the money his firm made on the Oklahoma opioid trial, as well as the money he expects to make on future opioid trials and appeals.  
O'Melveny, omm, charles lifland, jonathan schneller, steve stephen brody, jeffrey fisher, alex gorsky, johnson and johnson